HOMER, ODYSSEY 1: Edited with Introduction, Translation, Commentary and Glossary

Simon Pulleyn

OUP (2018) p/b 298pp £19.95 (ISBN 9780198824206)

It is a pleasure to welcome this new commentary on Odyssey 1, which P. tells us is aimed at ‘anyone from advanced students in the upper forms of schools through undergraduates and on to professional scholars’: how realistic this is will appear in the course of this review. The Introduction, in which P. offers lighter moments from time to time, is extensive: it covers ‘The Appeal of the Odyssey, ‘Structure’, ‘Style’, ‘The World of the Odyssey’, ‘Origins’, ‘Transmission’, ‘Metre’, and ‘Dialect and Grammar’. Three (or really two) maps cover the relevant area of the Ionian Sea. A worthwhile addition to each section briefly puts forward one or two suggestions for further reading.

‘Structure’ goes far beyond Book 1: while P. identifies three distinct ‘movements’ in the poem—the Telemachy (1-4), the Wanderings of Odysseus (5-12), the Homecoming (13-24)—he also, more interestingly, argues, and shows schematically (p.10), how the poem can be split into two halves that correspond ‘remarkably closely’ with one another. ‘Style’ deals with repetition, and (of course) with Homer’s use of formulaic epithets and their sometimes seeming inappropriateness: Volksepos (or Kunstsprache, in Karl Meister’s word) contrasted with Kunstepos, a topic reverted to under ‘Origins’. P. goes on to consider the deliberately structured sophistication of the speeches (this will be especially valuable for those less familiar with the work), and then the essentially ‘different’ nature of the language: archaism, dialect, rarity, including the use of hapax legomena. (Your reviewer was reminded of the fragment of Aristophanes’s Banqueters, quoted in Galen, in which the meaning of certain obscure Homeric ‘glottae’ is queried.) Finally, a short section on versification will, again, be helpful to the less experienced.

The ‘World of the Odyssey’ (a heading which at once reminds us of a well-known book by M.I. Finley) considers ‘Political life’, ‘Slaves’, and ‘Women’—where P. adverts to, without agreeing with, Finley’s view that the Odyssey is almost as much a Penelopeia , but accepts that Penelope plays a huge role; the parts played by Calypso, Circe, Nausicaa and Arete also come into consideration, but P. regards Helen as the most extraordinary female character in the epics, irrelevant though she is in this context. Other headings are ‘Travel and trade’, ‘Physiology and psychology’, and ‘The Divine’. P. sums up the Odyssey as having a wider geographical and ethnographic canvas than the Iliad, while also being morally and theologically rather simpler in outlook. In the section on ‘Origins’, one of the most important, P. comes down on the side of Adam Parry and his ‘artistic genius’ and ‘monumental composer’ who, in the 8th century BC, fashioned the Iliad and the Odyssey as we have them: of course, other views are discussed, even including Nagy’s ‘multi-text’, which, he thought, coalesced in the Hellenist period. In ‘Transmission’, P. sets out his view on the role played by Pisistratus and Hipparchus (not, says P., the occasion when the texts made their first appearance in writing), the work of the Alexandrian scholars, and the kinds of evidence with which a modern editor is faced. P.’s own text had the benefit of seeing Martin West’s new text and apparatus, and he explains the (straightforward) principles on which his own text and apparatus criticus are based; note here that P. follows West’s accentuation, so that the poem’s first word is accented with two acute accents: see P.’s note on line 1, where we also see that this accentuation was disapproved of by Aristarchus.

There follow sections (some elementary, some more ‘grown-up’) on ‘Metre’ and ‘Dialect and Grammar’: particularly to be noted are paragraphs on digamma and on plosives and liquid syllables, setting out when syllables may be ‘closed’ rather than ‘released’, terms which may be new to some; under ‘Dialect’, P. writes that it is ‘indisputable that the bulk of the epics was formed in Ionic’, but with added Aeolicisms, to be explained by geography (he accepts that the subject is highly controversial). An explanatory note on short-vowel subjunctives is distinctly useful. Here it is noteworthy that P. does not provide the usual handy vade mecum to other editions, commentaries or translations: indeed, while details of earlier commentaries are given in the bibliography, no translations, even those of the Loeb Library or Rieu, are mentioned. There follows the Text (with apparatus criticus) and a bald line-by-line translation. 

The bulk of the book is taken up by the commentary. In addition to the editor’s normal tasks of establishing and explaining the text, P.—in a marked change of emphasis from most other recent classical commentaries—devotes considerable effort to matters of linguistics and philology. You thought that you knew the meanings of κεδνός, φώς, θάμβησε, ἱερός? P.’s notes on these and many other words demand attention, and it is no surprise that in his ‘Index of Greek Words’, P. lists words from Mycenaean Greek, Proto-Indo-European, Vedic, Avestan, Hittite, Old Church Slavonic and Old Irish. This will not be to everyone’s taste, and is far from what would be welcomed at school or even (in most cases) undergraduate level: these students are, however, provided with a generous ‘Glossary’ of twenty pages (which may help to account for the omission of Georg Autenreith’s aged, but still useful, Homeric Dictionary from the bibliography). However, the reviewer must not give the impression that P. ignores more standard desiderata, even if it might have been helpful—as in Dodds’s Bacchae—to bracket the more heavily technical material. The note, for instance, on lines 356-9 (should they be athetized?) is an admirable example of the commentator’s task well accomplished, and P. always sets out clearly what is going on throughout the book; the note on Mentes at 105 is a positive model, both philologically and functionally, and expands on what P. has already written about Mentes in the introduction (pp. 6-8). 

The Commentary is followed by the bibliography, glossary, technical terms, and two indexes: it is no surprise to find the name of the late Martin West featuring so strongly in the bibliography, as, indeed, he does throughout the commentary, though P. does ‘not concur with West’s precise views of the composition of the poems’ (Introduction, p.40). For the reviewer, this was a wholly admirable edition, but, recalling warnings in ski resorts that some runs are ‘only for experienced skiers’, he suggests that it may be best approached by those who are no longer on the nursery slopes. 

Colin Leach 

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